First published 09/04/2014
Heading in to the World Cup several football fans become experts on all things Eastern European. Often, wild claims are made like Yugoslavia would win it if it still existed. Obviously, this ignores all the obvious dressing room tensions that would occur due to many years of conflict and reduces it down to just talent. And they have a lot of that.
In terms of football teams, Yugoslavia split into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro – Kosovo are looking to establish themselves. I have pooled together the players from all these teams and created a first 11 for Yugoslavia at the 2014 World Cup. 5 Croatians, 4 Serbians, 1 Bosnian and 1 Slovenian make the side. Obviously I’ve already messed up as Serbia aren’t even at the World Cup and Bosnia and Herzegovnia are but I will plough on regardless.
This is just the team I would pick if I was in charge. Would it win the World Cup? Probably not but it’d be very good to watch. You can judge for yourselves:
Goalkeeper – Samir Handanovic (Slovenia)
One of the few current Internazionale players who could get near teams of old, Handanovic has come out of the last couple of seasons with enormous credit. Since moving from Udinese in 2012, he has had to watch his side capitulate into an average mess. Yet he still excels between the sticks and for that reason he keeps out the brilliant Bosnian Asmir Begovic. You can also count on him in a shoot-out as he jointly holds the Serie A record for most penalty saves in one season – with six in 2011-12.
Fact: Handanovic is nicknamed ‘Batman’ for his agile saves
Right Back – Darijo Srna (Croatia)
The Croatia captain has consistently performed well for Shakhtar Donetsk on the big stages for several years now. He is the record cap holder for his country, with 111, and that experience could be vital. He also can hit a very good set piece, and loves to run forward which is evidenced by his 21 goals for the national team. His quality has not gone unnoticed by other big European teams with him having reportedly rejected both Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
Fact: Srna met his wife Mirela through mutual friend, and one-time Aston Villa flop, Bosko Balaban
Centre Back – Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia)
Even though Ivanovic has spent most of the season playing at full back for Chelsea I have selected him at centre back here. This is because Neven Subotic is still injured, as is Matija Nastasic, and Nemanja Vidic has completed his transformation into a moron. Ivanovic is a very capable centre back with good strength and pace. He has also been part of a very solid Chelsea defence this season which stands him in good stead.
Fact: Ivanovic is good friends with tennis legend Novak Djokovic
Centre Back – Dejan Lovren (Croatia)
Southampton’s young English players are taking the credit for a much improved second Premier League season but Lovren has been equally important. I mean to improve the team he just had to be better than the thundering oaf Jos Hooiveld but he has still been excellent. He was a key part of the defence which only conceded four goals in the opening eight matches of the season. A calm presence, he would be a good partner for Ivanovic.
Fact: Lovren runs a fashion label in Croatia called ‘Russell Brown’
Left Back – Aleksandar Kolarov (Serbia)
Heavily linked with a move away from Manchester City in the summer, Kolarov has responded well this season. He has displaced former number-one left back Gael Clichy for many matches this season and his left foot delivery has often been crucial for how his team plays. For this reason he keeps out Bosnia and Herzegovina’s attacking Senad Lulic who just isn’t quite as good as him.
Fact: Kolarov is really good at singing christmas carols watch here
Centre Mid – Nemanja Matic (Serbia)
This side has no shortage of creative spark and Matic will provide the solidity to let it happen. He has shown in his short time at Chelsea his ability to break up play and quickly distribute the ball. He may lack the passing range of some of the other midfielders in the team but he will work hard and provide good balance. He also plays with Ivanovic so should have a good understanding about when he needs to drop in.
Fact: Matic refused to play under the ex-Serbia manager and free-kick specialist Sinisa Mihaijlovic
Centre Mid – Luka Modric (Croatia)
The star man of the team. Many Real Madrid fans were questioning the wisdom of spending £30million+ on Modric after an underwhelming first season but under Carlo Ancelotti he has flourished. There have even been calls for him to win Spanish player of the year – in a league with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He is an excellent playmaker with both the ability to spot a pass and to beat a man with a dribble. He has been crucial to the attacking play of all the clubs he has been at.
Fact: Modric’s best man at his wedding was ex-Spurs team mate Vedran Corluka
Right Wing – Lazar Markovic (Serbia)
The 20-year-old wonderkid is already being been talked about as a potential star of world football and you can see why. The Partizan Belgrade player of the year in 2012, when he was just 18, has since made a big money to Benfica where he is entertaining fans with exciting flair. He has great close control, great dribbling ability and a change of pace similar to Gareth Bale. A maverick option at the moment but he’s going to be a star.
Fact: Markovic was born in Cacak the same birth place as the ‘Serbian Jimi Hendrix’ Tocak
Attacking Mid – Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)
Current Sevilla captain Rakitic has stepped up a gear in the last couple of seasons. He has always been highly talented but now he has impressive statistics to match. He has 16 goals and 17 assists in all competitions this season and is Sevilla’s greatest threat to the opposition. His penalty taking ability could be useful in the latter stages and his tendency to drift to the left will given balance to the formation.
Fact: Rakitic has a tattoo of his brother’s name, Dejan, in case he forgets it
Left Attacking Mid – Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Pjanic is no winger. What he is is an outrageously talented playmaker who has excelled as Rudi Garcia’s Roma have all but secured second in Serie A. More used to playing in the hole, he will tuck in and provide creativity as Kolarov bombards down the left flank. He has been crucial as Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for their first ever World Cup in 2014.
Fact: Pjanic played for the Luxembourg national team at youth level
Striker – Mario Mandzukic (Croatia)
The most difficult decision to make in the team is who to play as the lone striker. Montenegro’s Mirko Vucinic may have had a shout with a better season for Juventus but this is a straight fight between Mandzukic and Edin Dzeko. Both are excellent at holding the ball up, both will get on the crosses delivered from the full backs and Mandzukic links up with Rakitic whereas Dzeko links up with Pjanic. But personally I just back Mandzukic to be more likely to score in a match of few chances. His record of 13 in 48 matches for Croatia might not be great but he is a deadly striker.
Fact: Mandzukic’s wife and sister are both called Ivana